The much awaited 2nd Bonn Conference on Afghanistan was held on 5 December. Many have sought to downplay importance of the Conference also held to commemorate the 1st Conference at the same place 10 years ago when Afghanistan was liberated from the extremist clutches of the Taliban-Al Qaeda dyad that had ruined the country bringing it as some say right into the stone age. The very fact that analysts downplayed the importance of 2nd Bonn Conference suggested a major achievement for Afghanistan that it was no longer as critical an issue for the international community as it was 10 years ago and this despite the absence of Pakistan on one hand and the Taliban on the other. For Afghanistan thus the 2nd Bonn Conference could represent a signal that the tide to stability was certainly turning.
But coming to the Conference attended by about 100 countries and organisations 10 years after the first Bonn conference that set up the Karzai government, international delegates expectedly pledged full support to the Afghan government. There was almost near unanimity for supporting the country for another decade or more and to that extent the aims set for the conference have been largely achieved. The other aim of shifting focus from security to political and economic aspects may not have been evident given the grim security situation but President Hamid Karzai’s assurance that his government would press on with efforts, briefly stalled by the High Peace Council head Prof. Burhanuddin Rabbani's assassination, at pursuing peace with the Taliban were also welcome. Even though the participation of Pakistan and the Taliban would have added value the commitment of various regional players was most notable and should be encouraging.
With a number of conferences ongoing presently as well as in the subsequent years the 2nd Bonn conference may not have had the type of impact that the first had when the entire structure for Afghanistan was laid out. After 10 years when the institution and nation building process in the country is still underway but there is a road map that has been worked out by the international community as well as Afghans themselves the 2nd Conference may not have pleased the purists in the country who wanted some seminal or earthshaking developments. The Germans themselves may be disappointed but with two key players, Pakistan and Taliban both being absent there could not have been anything but a some what median result that was expected.
What is also noticeable is that consensus building on Afghanistan has now become a yearly process rather than a decadal one, thus Bonn is culmination of a series of conferences on the country in the past two years from London to Kabul to Istanbul and will be followed by one in Tokyo next year thereby indicating diplomatic path of a series of such events rather than expecting an all in one event.
Some have sited absence of Taliban as one of the failures of Bonn. Non participation of the Taliban in Bonn should be seen in the light of internal differences within the group rather than any blame on the Afghan government or the organisers Germany. It is well established that representatives of Taliban and the US had met in Qatar some time ago. Tayyub Agha, in charge of Taliban’s foreign affairs was sent by Mullah Omar for a dialogue for exchange of prisoners. Germany had also made efforts through former Afghan Taliban ambassador to Pakistan Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef who however does not seem to have confidence of Mullah Omar. Meanwhile the killing of Mr Rabbani was a set back that led to a break off in negotiations that had gathered critical mass particularly with the Hekmatyar faction. However it is apparent that there were major differences between the three main blocks of the Taliban, the Hekmatyar, Haqqani and Mullah Omar groups thereby indicating that the talks did not progress further and petered off. Till a consensus emerges between the three factions there is unlikely to be any breakthrough in the reconciliation process.
While Pakistan did not attend the Bonn Conference, this should be seen in the light of the extremely sensitive public response to the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in a NATO attack on two Pakistani checkpoints in the border region on November 26. Seething anger on the streets which was a genuine expression of hurt may not have permitted the government to take any decision otherwise. The commitment by the country’s Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gillani as well as other representatives seems to be conciliatory.
The overall trend in the country’s policy is however a cause of concern as if it wants to operate outside the paradigm of international diplomacy where killings of soldiers howsoever unfortunate and whatever be the internal repercussion would have to be taken in the stride and proceeded ahead rather than choosing to isolate itself. There are some apprehensions that Pakistan may turn out to be a pariah state as others such as North Korea and Iran, while these may be too simplistic assertions there would be a necessity to contain the contagion by ensuring that Islamabad remains inside the box of international diplomacy.
So the Bonn Conference may not have been an earthshaking event for many but it should be certainly be seen as another seminal landmark in Afghanistan’s path to peace and prosperity.